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GPS Sustains Field Ops

Over the past two years, Cox Communications has applied global positioning system (GPS) technology to transform the operational, customer and environmental economics of its business. This shift of perspective has yielded significant results.

Deploying field operations resources with customer needs and expectations in the forefront, the company has deployed GPS solutions to achieve dramatic savings in fuel and vehicle maintenance costs. This technology also has enabled field service techs to do their jobs better and more efficiently, which improves their satisfaction and customer service delivery effectiveness.

Not only is Cox committed to serving its customers effectively and efficiently, it is also committed to doing so in environmentally sustainable ways. Its Cox Conserves program is focused on reducing Cox Enterprises carbon emissions 20 percent by the year 2017.

To date, the company has invested in efficient heating and cooling systems, hybrid fleet vehicles, renewable energy sources and more. This same commitment to more sustainable fleet and field operations is what has motivated the company’s investment in GPS solutions for its vehicles and a new intelligent field service dispatch system.

Cox employees drive a fleet of 9,000 vehicles some 80 million miles annually. (See sidebar.) Real-time and historical tech and vehicle location data can have a dramatic impact on fuel costs, safety and carbon emissions.

Measurable results

Cox began its sustainable field operations journey in 2007, having now implemented GPS solutions from Sunnyvale, California-based technology provider Trimble into most of its dispatched vehicles.

Because field service delivery is so complex for a workforce and fleet the size of Cox, and because there are so many different initiatives at play simultaneously to improve efficiency, it is difficult to measure the operational efficiencies that can be achieved with GPS alone. Cox therefore initially focused on two dedicated programs to measure the return on its mobile resource management (MRM) investment: vehicle idle time and mileage reduction.

The engine bus monitoring component of the GPS solution that Cox has implemented delivers valuable engine data for analysis, reporting and subsequent process and individual behavior modification. These data include speed, mileage, engine performance and engine idle time. GPS-enabled vehicles provide not only valuable real-time location data, but also historical location and route information to facilitate ever-tighter routing and route optimization at different times of the day.

The results have been significant and include the following:

  • Daily mileage dropped from 100+ miles per vehicle to less than 70 miles per vehicle.

  • Overall miles per gallon increased 5 percent, while vehicle repair costs declined 5 percent.

  • Vehicle idle time dropped by as much as 90 minutes per field service tech per day.

  • Carbon emissions dropped by as much as 30 pounds per vehicle per day.

Cox Communications’ idle time reduction pilot illustrates a pragmatic approach toward enabling fleet and field service to operate in ever more sustainable and cost-efficient ways.

An engine monitoring feature allowed for setting "idle triggers" for 5, 10 and 15 minutes of idle time (defined as vehicle not moving and engine still running). The initial pilot used these triggers to alert field service reps in a control group to shut down their vehicles. A concurrent baseline group did not have benefit of the triggers to help modify their behavior.

Triggering resulted in an average engine idle time of 11 minutes per field service rep per day. Without proactive triggers, engine idle time averaged 96 minutes per day. The detailed results are depicted in Figure 1. For the Cox Communications dispatched fleet, at $3.00 per gallon, this would translate into $6 million of fuel savings per year and an annual carbon dioxide emissions reduction of 43 million pounds.

The basics of Cox Communications field service delivery are twofold: 1) Ensure the field service tech with the right skills arrives at the customer at the right time, the first time; and 2) Minimize field service tech drive time to maximize job completion time.

Being effective and efficient in both of these areas has a measurable impact on overall fuel consumption. Given the scope of the Cox fleet, even small incremental reductions in mileage per vehicle can have a dramatic fuel cost and carbon impact.

GPS-enabled vehicles also add significant benefits beyond the hard, quantifiable fuel cost savings and carbon emission reduction. Knowing where, when and how vehicles are used enables field service teams to better serve their customers. And combining real-time location information with post-event data provides Cox the opportunity to better understand its business.

Some examples from Cox’s experience with operational GPS include:

Field service tech validation. Using GPS data allows field service techs to show their individual routes for optimization purposes or their attempts to deliver customer service.

Safety. Knowing that a service rep is in a remote area and has gone silent can prompt dispatch to check on their safety.

Vehicle-specific engine light. Previously, reps would return to a work center whenever the engine light came on. Now it is possible to remotely diagnose a potential problem and determine if the vehicle should be taken out of service or if the tech can continue working, fulfilling the paramount task of meeting customer service requests.

Field assist. If a field service tech needs assistance at customer premises, now dispatchers can see who is close by and able to assist. This enables a rep to complete the job without a return visit, saving fuel from another truck roll and eliminating a second appointment.

Central IT, opportunities

Cox Communications operates within a centralized IT environment across all of its clustered regions. This enables it to enjoy the cost advantages of solution standardization, and the flexibility of a web-service-based infrastructure. The architecture is displayed in Figure 2 (page 18).

Currently, the Cox dispatch, GPS and fleet management system are all application service provider (ASP)-based with a Web interface. The field service portal that our field service techs use to access back-end information is an internal system, but also with a Web interface. This approach facilitates the company’s ability to integrate data from each system to further automate the field operations process.

Cox sees many more opportunities for operational GPS and MRM solutions throughout its systems and business. Some of these include:

Real-time dispatch. Having this capability would enable Cox to be efficient in how it assigns resources to "must do" network fixes. Knowing which qualified tech is closest would enable dispatch to slot them in real time for quicker and more cost-effective fixes on these critical infrastructure problems.

Mileage. Today field service techs have fuel cards that require manual entry of mileage when fueling vehicles. Tying GPS-based mileage into the fleet management system would enable more accurate analysis for vehicle-specific maintenance programs.

Program management. Having actual data across systems would allow for more automated reporting for different programs. Today much of this is done manually. As with field assist and idle time reduction, GPS data could enable better management of preventive maintenance programs for each individual vehicle.

The Cox MRM journey has just begun. Almost everything we do in field operations has a fuel, carbon and customer impact. This is mission critical for our continued leadership in customer service.

Mark Leuenberger is director of fleet operations, Cox Enterprises, the parent company of Cox Communications.

1 Million Gallons

With GPS and vehicle management systems now installed in 5,000 vehicles, Cox saves more than 1 million gallons of fuel and at least $2 million in fuel costs each year. The fleet management solutions also enable the company to reduce its carbon footprint by cutting over 25 million pounds of CO 2.

Cox at a Glance

More than 6 million customers

14 clustered markets

9,000 vehicles

Thousands of field service reps

5,500 dispatched fleet

80 million miles driven annually

8 million gallons of fuel consumed annually

Hybrid Trucks

In addition to deploying global positioning system (GPS) and vehicle diagnostic systems from Trimble in 5,000 vehicles, Cox Communications employs flex-fuel vehicles and is replacing fleet vehicles with more fuel-efficient models and hybrids.

Among those are nine hybrid trucks from Navistar, which provide dramatic fuel savings of nearly 60 percent with the gasoline engine off and the electric motor powering the vehicle. Diesel emissions are completely eliminated when the hybrid truck operates equipment such as overhead utility booms solely on the truck’s battery power.

The Hybrid Truck Users Forum (of which Cox is a member) estimates that 1,000-1,500 gallons of fuel can be saved per utility-type truck annually. That equates to annual savings of $3,000 – $6,000 per truck. It also results in yearly greenhouse gas reductions of 11 to 16.5 tons.

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